Sony PS4 – social gaming and no waiting

Analysis: While there are still gaps to be filled, the PS4’s emphasis is firmly on social and no-loading times

 

So there was no console shown, no price set and no definite release date beyond 'Holiday 2013' (that's Christmas to us Brits), yet the two-hour PlayStation 4 reveal threw up a fair bit to whet the eager gamer's appetite.

Check out all the details on the Sony PlayStation 4. We will of course bring you a full preview when we get our hands on it.

As the strains of the DFA1979 remix of Metric's 'Monster Hospital' erupted over a video of the brand's greatest moments, it felt like a long tease could be in store at New York's rather formally monikered PlayStation Meeting. But there was no waiting on ceremony: the name PlayStation 4 was cast out to the crowd early on by master of ceremonies (and Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO) Andrew House, as if it was already public knowledge.

Yet through referencing its glorious past, Sony also owned up to the odd mis-step. The repetition throughout of how much developers love working with the new console echoed the problems many have had with the PlayStation 3, PS4 lead system architect Mark Cerny admitting that customised technology can be a hindrance compared to off-the-shelf kit. The PS Vita was held up as an example of the latter, and the beleaguered handheld's second life as a PS4 sidekick was bigged-up at every opportunity. The same was once said of its relationship to the PS3 and that didn't really happen, but this feels a more natural fit, so we'd like to believe. Playing full-fat games, Wii U GamePad-style, on the five-inch OLED certainly appeals as much now as it ever did.

Of course, it's fairly typical when talking about "next-gen" systems to focus on the firepower, and Sony ticked some of those necessary boxes, while ensuring it was vague enough to keep it tantalising. With eight CPU cores and 8GB of unified memory, the PS4 seems to live up to the "supercharged PC architecture" claim, yet the amount of storage has yet to be confirmed, as has the housing, and there are various spec holes that will need to be filled between now and E3.

What was confirmed, though, was the Dualshock 4 controller, looking very much like a sleeker version of those leaked Logic 3-esque prototypes doing the rounds. The Vita's excellent, if underused, rear touch panel has been re-purposed as a front control input here – though, interestingly, no demoed games were shown to make use of it – while enhanced rumble, a built-in light bar for Move-esque positional use with the included stereo camera, and the all-new Share button add depth to what was already an accomplished joypad.

Indeed, much was made of the Share button, and its ability to take screenshots, in-game video clips or even multi-cast your play live to your friends with minimal effort, and social is front and centre on the PlayStation hub at last. Apple and its ilk have reframed how we interact with technology, more affected by ecosystem than hardware, and Sony promises a retooled experience, more personalised, curated and, to be fair, Xbox Live-like.

A social network skin has been laid over the back end, your PSN page looking more like Facebook every day (whether you like that is up to you), while games are recommended Pinterest-style in a wall of personal likes and friend recommendations. You can browse live games in progress and even take control to help chums through particularly tricky bits (no doubt laughing at their ineptitude while you do), while accompanying smartphone and tablet apps will extend many functions to when you're away from the console as part of the PlayStation Cloud, though the extent of this has not been fleshed out so far.    

Despite the perhaps foolhardy similarity of launching a controller without its console, PlayStation 4 might well turn out to be the anti-Wii U. Sod the second-screen shenanigans it occasionally shares with Nintendo's machine – and even then we've heard promises of Remote Play made before, so we'll wait to get excited, as much as we like the idea – this face-off runs much deeper.

Firstly, it's clearly far more powerful, but then that was expected. Secondly, the sheer volume of support – Activision, Blizzard, Capcom, Ubisoft, Square Enix, Epic – put the first-party-dependent, software-poor Wii U in the darkest of shade. Finally, even in operation and design, the PS4 seems almost as if someone at Sony got so tired of waiting for Netflix to load on its rival, it threw the GamePad out of the window and shouted, "Never again!"

On PlayStation 4, the focus is on everything being instant, with no loading times and minimal waiting. It's defined by its, and your, impatience. You can select a game you don't own and start playing it instantly, apparently, whether you're trialling it on the Gaikai-powered PlayStation Store or have bitten the bullet and bought it, yet it's still downloading in the background.

This multi-tasking, always-on approach is what we've come to expect from mobile devices, and it's a refreshing change for a console, though actual evidence of it in action was thin on the ground. If it can deliver on the promise it could be a revelation, as all the current systems are fairly cumbersome, but it remains reliant on the wi-fi infrastructure in which it sits to a degree.

Likewise, the games shown, while graphically impressive, were more concepts in the main. In fact, some really were just concept demos – Media Molecule's fun-looking 3D sculpting with the Move wand, Quantic Dream's striking facial textures – but even the more story-driven offerings, from Killzone: Shadows Fall to Destiny, were hard to get a feel of how they actually play. Check out the full list of games here.

The one exception, of course, was Watch Dogs, a game we've been consistently impressed with since its techy mix of life-hacking and smartphone skullduggery was announced, but one that is now coming out on current-gen formats, too. It was an interesting undercurrent that ran throughout the event, firms stating repeatedly that games would be released on both new and old PlayStations. Whether this is publishers hedging bets on a new system or a genuine part of Sony's "everything, everywhere" vision, we'll have to wait and see.  

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